Does a Criminal Record Prevent You from Going Back to School? Myths vs. Facts.
If you have goals to go back to school, but are hesitant to apply because of your criminal background, think again. As the country continues to take steps to provide Second Chance opportunities, educational institutions including trade schools and colleges have become more flexible with their admissions processes.
Before you turn down the opportunity to continue your education or desired training, learn more about the admissions process and some tips to guide you through it.
Myth #1: Going back to school is not possible if I didn’t finish high school.
Myth #2: It’s better to go to college than trade school.
Fact: Both options prepare graduates for a variety of career paths. Neither one is better than the other. Trade schools are usually two years or fewer and offer job-specific certification, licensure, or apprenticeship. Most colleges range from two to four years and provide you with a degree in a specific field of study. When deciding which path to take, consider your interests and goals, the length of the program, the cost, and the financial resources available to you.
Myth #3: I will be automatically rejected if I disclose my conviction on an enrollment application.
Fact: It’s important to be honest about your past when applying to a school or vocational program. Omitting the truth will surely lead to a rejection, however, you will never be rejected on the sole basis of your conviction; decisions are based on a combination of factors.
According to a 2019 report from the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, 40% of community colleges, 55% of public universities, and 80% of private colleges require admissions applicants to report whether they have been convicted of criminal activity.1 Although these numbers seem high, most schools that collect this information take all information into account before they make a decision.
Documents such as recommendation letters from your probation or parole officer, character references, and employment history may be requested. Obtain these documents before you submit your application, so you are prepared if they are needed. This shows you are organized and motivated.
Myth #4: Never base your admission essay on your criminal past and avoid discussing it during your interview.
Fact: Many schools require applicants to submit an essay, also known as a personal statement. This is the chance to showcase who you are as a person, outside of grades and certifications. It’s also a place to talk about why you want to continue your education and explain any extenuating circumstances that got in the way of school. Less often, schools may require a pre-enrollment interview to assess your communication and social skills. When writing and talking about your past convictions explain what you learned from the experience and how it has helped you become the person you are today. Click here for tips on how to address your past.
Myth #5: My criminal I history prevents me from receiving financial aid or government assistance.
Fact: Criminal backgrounds can make it harder to qualify for financial aid, but not impossible. Certain convictions involving drug and sexual offenses typically ban an individual from receiving aid, but there are ways to regain eligibility. Studentaid.gov explains the eligibility requirements for students with criminal convictions.
Federal aid is available in the form of loans, grants, and scholarships. If you meet the requirements for assistance, the next step is to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). To learn more about financial aid and begin the application process, click here.
Are you ready to take the next step?
The decision to start or continue your education can be overwhelming, but don’t let your criminal record get in the way of your goals. Education, whether it be getting your high school diploma, a trade certification, or a college degree can make you more employable and may open more opportunities for you in the future. Click here to explore degree options for reentry students. To learn about trade schools, visit our vocational programming section and search by industry.
GEO Reentry Connect is a comprehensive resource for individuals who have been incarcerated. Find resources you need upon release from prison or jail–employment, housing, education, family services, treatment, and more.